25 January 2009

Cordelia's Honor by Lois McMaster Bujold

After certain persons close to me going on at some length about Bujold in general and the Vorkosigan series in particular, and one of them lending us pretty much the whole of the Vorkosigan series, I have begun working my way through them.

This first omnibus edition comprises two novels that occur before Miles Vorkosigan himself is actually born, serving mainly to set up the world in general and the formidableness of his parents in particular. It's good, high action space opera. It has some of the flaws you might expect given that description - the heroes are just phenomenally awesome, for example - but accepting these conventions, it is an immensely good read.

The Atrocity Archives by Charles Stross

Re-reading this was enjoyable, especially given that I had been thinking a lot about Lovecraft (with running Trail of Cthulhu) and it's relationship to espoinage fiction (given the Delta Green connection in my game). Plus, I've been reading a bit of Hellboy/BPRD and thinking a bit about Cold City/Hot War too, so I guess the whole apocalypti/monsters from beyond thing might be rather on my mind right now.

Anyhow, to the book itself... it's certainly raw compared to his later work, and filled to the brim with nerdy jokes about Lovecraft, information technology and spy fiction. Still, they are good jokes and it is a good story. I suspect that The Jennifer Morgue will get a second read pretty soon, too, and I'm looking forward to the third outing even more now.

19 January 2009

Kapcon 2009 Report

So, this year I was a leading conspirator in Kapcon's second games on demand event. We had a bigger team of facilitators, with last year's team (me, Steve Hickey, Morgan Davie and Malcolm Craig) joined by Aaron Caskey, Simon Carryer and Gregor Hutton. Everything went a bit more smoothly, with the benefit of having done it all once before, and overall I felt that the room had a more relaxed atmosphere.

The main thing was getting games played - I have numbers for the first five rounds, where we seem to have got 40 people through the room. In fact the games played is somewhat higher than this would imply, because with 7 of us facilitators, we all got to join in games a fair bit too. I think we had four or five games run per round, and a good selection too. Highly requested this year were 3:16, Mouse Guard, and Best Friends. I guess having Mr Hutton present may have accounted for some of that.

As facilitators, we'd made a specific decision to reduce the number of games we each offered and focus on fewer games that we were more excited to run. In the end we each had 4-8, I think. As one of those at the higher end of that range, I think that next year I'm going to aim for no more than 5-6 to offer. More focus, I think, means more enthusiasm when pitching and running.

Anyway, for some specific games...

Round one I ran a game of Mouse Guard. We played the 'deliever the mail' scenario from the book, minus one character, and had a great time. The main mission went relatively smoothly and we had time to do a follow up GM/player turn in which they dealt with the mouse Loretta and her story that had come up after their encounter with the raven and losing some of the mail. A good time was had by all, and I think that session might have sold the game to one of the players who wanted to try it out. I like this game - as GM, the rules really help build the story up as you play.

Round two, I got to play a game of 3:16 run by Gregor. I played a quiet, possibly psycho trooper in what turned out to be a squad of misfits. We almost immediately got pulled off active service due to a variety of screwups and the sarge got caught in Catch-22 by his superior officer. Eventually we got shipped to a trooper R&R brothel planet to work as MPs, which went as badly as might be expected, as we stumbled upon alien inflitrators up to no good. Our attempts to deal with them were hindered by (1) our decision that some innocent alien clams were the enemy and (2) the sargent being infected and mind controlled by a Gongaran ooze. Despite all this, we managed to wipe all the bastards out through the panicked use of lots of strength flashbacks. Take that, disgusting groin oozes! A fun, albeit absolutely disgusting game. Be glad I have left out the details of the Gongaran life cycle.

Round four, was a game of Geiger Counter. We built a science fiction film "New Eden", in which the menace was the breakdown of a utopian Star Trek-type alliance due to the danger of new ideas. Our setting was a frontier base where an alien diplomatic mission was taking place. The overall plot was that some paranoid or possibly just cautious faction in the alliance determined that the alien influence would destablize society, so attempted to destroy the contact at the source. Our characters were people on the base attempting to either escape or deal with either the 'cauterization' faction or the 'new ideas' faction. The aliens also took some part, although their motivations were 'escape from crazy humans' once everything began falling apart. The game went well, with some strong potential survivor characters and some great scenes. I felt that the pacing went as it should, and that Geiger Counter once again shone as a game for this sort of story. Two survivors, one infected with 'new ideas' and both leaving room for a sequel.

Round five was a game of The Shab-al-Hiri Roach which went very well. I had a couple of players who were, I think, new to the style of game (GM-less, one shot) but they were both experienced LARPers, and they soon got into the swing of things. We had a fairly low body count game, but plenty of social sniping and heckling people's formal speeches. Due to a combination of players who were a couple and fortuitous Roach commands, there was also a pretty funny scandalous BDSM affair between their two characters. My own character had a very satisfying arc, in which I pushed him to bring the crazy (he was Roach-possessed from the beginning) but he threw it off before the end, and I had him give up his stuffy university life to become a musician and a better person, having reformed from those dark days of 1919 at Pemberton College. I think that might be the first happy ending I have had for a Roach character!

So, four out of four good games. In each I felt like the intended effect of "introduce people to something they are interested in but might not have given a go otherwise" was met, and wholly or mostly the secondary objective of "and they liked it too". There was also generally a more sociable and fun vibe in the games on demand room this year, which was good. Plus, thanks to Malcolm, we had arranged to have a few games to give away as spot prizes (on a 'you get one entry each time you play, and we draw names out at random' process). It was really cool to be able to give some free stuff to some of the people who had come and joined us during the con.

Comments are welcome. Otherwise, see you all next year!

16 January 2009

Mouse Guard RPG: Actual Play Impressions

Just a quick post to note that I played a one-shot game of this on Monday night, with the pre-generated "Trouble in Grasslake" mission from the book. We had a lot of fun, and the game seemed to work in all the places that reading it led me to expect that it would.

We had a few rough areas with certain rules, but nothing serious - they were all things that would be easily dealt with if we had a few sessions of familiarity (or just an actual book to flick through instead of a printed out pdf). We had a major conflict, which ran surprisingly easily given that it's more involved in the reading. That might be partly because a really good early roll made it fairly short, but I think that was pretty minor - the options were pretty straightforward as we dealt with each in turn. Tactically we probably should have all been thinking more seriously but that will come in time.

Most importantly, we had a great time. The mission played out well, with the major plot and main subplot both giving a lot of entertainment. We skipped one of the suggested subplots, which never quite fitted in, so no great loss there. I also mainly hit the mice with conditions as the result of failed tests, because that was what the fiction called for. The one complication that I remember came in the player turn and led to some great drama between the guard mice as an ill-advised action by one mouse became fairly public knowledge.

Overall impressions: fantastic! I am hoping to run or play some more at Kapcon tomorrow.

15 January 2009

The Sky Road by Ken MacLeod

Well, I made it to the end of the Fall Revolution series again. This one is my second favorite after The Star Fraction. A nice, fairly hopeful end to the series.

10 January 2009

The Cassini Division by Ken MacLeod

Third in the Fall Revolution Series, this deals with the aftermath of The Stone Canal's events from the point of view of the defenders of the communist Union that controls most of the Solar System. The key question is what to do about the posthuman upload civilisation on Jupiter, that has been generally hostile for some decades and has just changed into a new phase. Our point of view character is a hard soldier who is all for dropping a few thousand comets on the planet and killing them all, but various people she meets along the way are keen to convince her that perhaps one shouldn't just wipe out other civilisations just because they might later be a threat to us?

A good one.

The Stone Canal by Ken MacLeod

I remember this being the most confusing of the Fall Revolution novels, and it still is on re-reading. It is packed with more ideas than the others, and none seem quite as completely explicated. Still, it's interesting to see the story of a couple of characters you met once each in The Star Fraction played out in full over the course of a couple of hundred years here (this pattern continues in the other books, each is a story that is tangential to that first novel).

Still, there's plenty here to like, and the ideas are fascinating to think about, even if I would have liked to have them developed further in the novel.

The Alchemist's Apprentice by Dave Duncan

A fun Venetian murder mystery/conspiracy novel following the apprentice of a descendant of Nostradamus. Technically it's a fantasy novel, but the magical elements are few and hardly rate compared to the romantic poltical wheeling and dealing of the main character as he tries to solve a murder, in the flamboyant manner expected of a Venetian nobleman (even if his family happens to be destitute).

Light and enjoyable.